ARM has announced two programs to assist Android’s ascent into the 64-bit architecture market.
The first of those is Linaro, a port of the Android Open Source Project to the 64-bit ARMv8-A architecture. ARM said the port was done on a development board codenamed “Juno”, which is the second initiative to help Android reach the 64-bit market.
The Juno hardware development platform includes a system on chip (SoC) powered by a quad-core ARM Cortex-A53 CPU and dual-core ARM Cortex-A57 CPU in an ARM big.little processing configuration.
Juno is said to be an “open, vendor neutral ARMv8 development platform” that will also feature an ARM Mali-T624 graphics processor.
Alongside the news of the 64-bit initiatives, ARM also announced that Actions Semiconductor of China signed a license agreement for the 64-bit ARM Cortex-A50 processor family.
“Actions provides SoC solutions for portable consumer electronics,” ARM said. “With this IP license, Actions will develop 64-bit SoC solutions targeting the tablet and over-the-counter (OTT) set top box markets.”
The announcements from ARM come at an appropriate time, as it was only last week that Google announced the latest version of its Android mobile operating system, Android L, which comes with support for 64-bit processors. ARM’s latest developments mean that Android developers are likely to take advantage of them in the push to take Android to the 64-bit market.
Despite speculation that it would launch as Android 5.0 Lollipop, Google outed its next software iteration on Wednesday last week as simply Android L, touting the oddly-named iteration as “the largest update to the operating system yet”.
The commitment comes at a time when new data shows a dramatic drop in theft of Apple iPhones and iPads after the September 2013 introduction of iOS 7, which included a kill-switch function that allows stolen devices to be remotely locked and deleted so they become useless.
In New York, iPhone theft was down 19 percent in the first five months of this year, which is almost double the 10 percent drop in overall robberies seen in the city. Over the same period, thefts of Samsung devices — which did not include a kill switch until one was introduced on Verizon-only models in April — rose by over 40 percent.
In San Francisco, robberies of iPhones were 38 percent lower in the six months after the iOS 7 introduction versus the six months before, while in London thefts over the same period were down by 24 percent. In both cities, robberies of Samsung devices increased.
“These statistics validate what we always knew to be true, that a technological solution has the potential to end the victimization of wireless consumers everywhere,” San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon told IDG News Service.
Gascon and New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman have been leading a push to get smartphone vendors and telecom carriers to include kill switches in their products as a way to curb phone theft.
The joint work had early success with Apple but other carriers and phone makers dragged their feet. However, resistance to the idea appears to be dropping as several bills that mandate kill switches make their way through state legislatures and the U.S. Congress.
The bills demand a function that would enable a phone owner to remotely delete and disable a phone if stolen. The function could be disabled by consumers before a theft takes place if desired, but crucially new handsets would be supplied with it switched on by default.
Oracle has added systems to its enterprise-class x86 server line featuring elastic computing capabilities that dynamically adapt their configurations in response to workloads.
The Oracle Sun Server X4-4 and Sun Server X4-8 are four-socket and eight-socket systems designed for data centre workloads such as virtualisation, Oracle databases and scale-up enterprise applications.
However, the two servers are fitted with a unique variant of Intel’s Xeon E7 v2 processor family that combines the capabilities of three different Xeon processors into one.
Oracle said it worked with Intel to create this chip, the Xeon E7-8895 v2, which can dynamically switch its core count, clock frequency and power consumption without the need for a system level reboot.
This chip is the heart of the elastic computing capability of the Sun Server X4-4 and Sun Server X4-8, enabling them to adapt to the requirements of different workloads based on its runtime configuration.
It might be configured for transaction processing at a high clock speed for one hour, then switched to higher core counts for the next hour for higher throughput computing, according to Oracle.
“Through close collaboration with Intel, we are the first to announce servers based on the new Xeon E7-8895 v2 processors and the first with unique capabilities that allow customers to dynamically address different workloads in real time,” said Ali Alasti, senior vice president for hardware development at Oracle.
Enhancements have also been made to the system firmware and to Oracle’s Solaris, and Oracle Linux operating systems to support the elastic computing features.
Oracle also said the new systems have a modular design that allows the processors to be upgraded to future Xeon chips, while all the disks are hot-swappable, plus there is hot-pluggable I/O support for industry-standard low-profile PCI Express cards via a dual PCIe card carrier.
The servers also feature a “glueless” architecture that removes the need for a node controller. As node controllers typically change from one processor generation to the next because of modifications to inter-processor communication and coherency protocols, the elimination enables Oracle to offer a future-proof chassis that will support future processor releases from Intel, the firm said.
The Sun Server X4-8 is touted by Oracle as ideal for running its Oracle Database, which has just been updated with an in-memory processing option. It supports 120 processor cores with up to 6TB of memory in its 5U rack-mount chassis, plus up to 9.6TB of hard drive or 3.2TB of solid state drive (SSD) storage.
Meanwhile, the Sun Server X4-4 is said to be well suited for applications requiring large memory footprint virtual machines and running real-time analytics software.
It can be configured with two or four of the Xeon E7-8895 v2 processors, with up to 3TB of memory and 4.8TB of PCIe flash plus 2.4TB of SSDs or 7.2TB of hard drives.
According to Jon Peddie Research (JPR), shipments of discrete graphics cards were down in the first quarter of the year. This is in line with seasonal trends, as the market cools down after the holiday season.
The sequential drop was 6.7 percent, which was still better than the overall desktop PC market, which slumped 9 percent. However, on a year-to-year basis add-in-board (AIB) shipments were down 0.8 percent. PC sales were down 1.1 percent.
Nvidia still controls two thirds of the market
Total AIB shipments in Q1 were just 14 million units. AMD and Nvidia both saw their shipments decrease 6.6 percent, so their market share did not change much.
Nvidia controls an estimated 65 percent of the market, up from 64.2 percent last year. AMD’s market share in Q1 was 35 percent, down from 35.6 percent a year ago.
The overall volume remains weak and in the long run things could get even worse, as on-die integrated graphics have already taken a big toll on sales of entry level discrete cards. As integrated GPUs become even faster, they are likely to cannibalize the low end market even further.
JPR points out that the AIB market peaked in 1999, with 114 million units shipped. Last year saw only 65 million units and the stagnant trend is likely to continue this year.
It’s not all bad news for AIBs
Although the slump in discrete GPU shipments is hurting AMD and NV hardware partners, JPR offers a rather encouraging outlook.
It points out that graphics cards are one of the most powerful, essential and exciting components in the PC market today. PC gaming is hardly dead, in fact it is going through what can only be described as a small renaissance. PCs will offer 4K/UHD gaming years ahead of consoles and the Steam Machine concept is looking good, too.
The compute market is another driver, as JPR points out:
“The technology is entering into major new markets like supercomputers, remote workstations, and simulators almost on a daily basis. It would be little exaggeration to say that the AIB resembles the 800-pound gorilla in the room.”
The AIB market is quite a bit less colourful and eventful than it was back in the day, but at least AIBs still have a lot on their hands and they are trying to tap new markets.
Chang Dong-hoon offered to resign last week and will be replaced by Lee Min-hyouk, vice president for mobile design, a Samsung spokeswoman said on Thursday.
“The realignment will enable Chang to focus more on his role as head of the Design Strategy Team, the company’s corporate design center which is responsible for long-term design strategy across all of Samsung’s businesses, including Mobile Communications,” Samsung said in a statement.
Lee, 42, became Samsung’s youngest senior executive in 2010 for his role in designing the Galaxy series, a roaring success which unseated Apple Inc’s iPhone as king of the global smartphone market.
Samsung now sells two times more smartphones than Apple, largely thanks to the success of Galaxy range.
But the South Korean firm has also been battling patent litigation the world over, with Apple claiming Samsung copied the look and feel of the U.S. firm’s mobile products.
The Galaxy S5, which debuted globally last month, has received a lukewarm response from consumers due to its lack of eye-popping hardware innovations, while its plastic case design has been panned by some critics for looking cheap and made out of a conveyor belt. The Wall Street Journal said the gold-colored back cover on the S5 looked like a band-aid.
Chang, a former professor who studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, will continue to lead Samsung’s design center which overseas its overall design strategy.
Lee, who acquired the moniker of “Midas” for his golden touch with the Galaxy series, started out designing cars for Samsung’s failed auto joint venture with Renault in the 1990s.
ARM announced its first 64-bit cores a while ago and SoC makers have already rolled out several 64-bit designs. However, apart from Apple nobody has consumer oriented 64-bit ARM devices on the market just yet. They are slowly starting to show up and ARM says the transition to 64-bit parts is accelerating. However, the first wave of 64-bit ARM parts is not going after the high-end market.
Is 64-bit support on entry-level SoCs just a gimmick?
This trend raises a rather obvious question – are low end ARMv8 parts just a marketing gimmick, or do they really offer a significant performance gain? There is no straight answer at this point. It will depend on Google and chipmakers themselves, as well as phonemakers.
Qualcomm announced its first 64-bit part late last year. The Snapdragon 410 won’t turn many heads. It is going after $150 phones and it is based on Cortex A53 cores. It also has LTE, which makes it rather interesting.
MediaTek is taking a similar approach. Its quad-core MT6732 and octa-core MT6752 parts are Cortex A53 designs, too. Both sport LTE connectivity.
Qualcomm and MediaTek appear to be going after the same market – $100 to $150 phones with LTE and quad-core 64-bit stickers on the box. Marketers should like the idea, as they’re getting a few good buzzwords for entry-level gear.
However, we still don’t know much about their real-world performance. Don’t expect anything spectacular. The Cortex A53 is basically the 64-bit successor to the frugal Cortex A7. The A53 has a bit more cache, 40-bit physical addresses and it ends up a bit faster than the A7, but not by much. ARM says the A7 delivers 1.9DMIPS/MHz per core, while the A53 churns out 2.3DMIPS/MHz. That puts it in the ballpark of the good old Cortex A9. The first consumer oriented quad-core Cortex A9 part was Nvidia’s Tegra 3, so in theory a Cortex A53 quad-core could be as fast as a Tegra 3 clock-for-clock, but at 28nm we should see somewhat higher clocks, along with better graphics.
That’s not bad for $100 to $150 devices. LTE support is just the icing on the cake. Keep in mind that the Cortex A7 is ARM’s most efficient 32-bit core, hence we expect nothing less from the Cortex A53.
The Cortex A57 conundrum
Speaking to CNET’s Brooke Crothers, ARM executive vice president of corporate strategy Tom Lantzsch said the company was surprised by strong demand for 64-bit designs.
“Certainly, we’ve had big uptick in demand for mobile 64-bit products. We’ve seen this with our [Cortex] A53, a high-performance 64-bit mobile processor,” Lantzch told CNET.
He said ARM has been surprised by the pace of 64-bit adoption, with mobile parts coming from Qualcomm, MediaTek and Marvell. He said he hopes to see 64-bit phones by Christmas, although we suspect the first entry-level products will appear much sooner.
Lantzsch points out that even 32-bit code will run more efficiently on 64-bit ARMv8 parts. As software support improves, the performance gains will become more evident.
But where does this leave the Cortex A57? It is supposed to replace the Cortex A15, which had a few teething problems. Like the A15 it is a relatively big core. The A15 was simply too big and impractical on the 32nm node. On 28nm it’s better, but not perfect. It is still a huge core and its market success has been limited.
As a result, it’s highly unlikely that we will see any 28nm Cortex A57 parts. Qualcomm’s upcoming Snapdragon 810 is the first consumer oriented A57 SoC. It is a 20nm design and it is coming later this year, just in time for Christmas as ARM puts it. However, although the Snapdragon 810 will be ready by the end of the year, the first phones based on the new chip are expected to ship in early 2015.
While we will be able to buy 64-bit Android (and possibly Windows Phone) devices before Christmas, most if not all of them will be based on the A53. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Consumers won’t have to spend $500 to get a 64-bit ARM device, so the user base could start growing long before high-end parts start shipping, thus forcing developers and Google to speed up 64-bit development.
If rumors are to be believed, Google is doing just that and it is not shying away from small 64-bit cores. The search giant is reportedly developing a $100 Nexus phone for emerging markets. It is said to be based on MediaTek’s MT6732 clocked at 1.5GHz. Sounds interesting, provided the rumour turns out to be true.
He is one of the drivers behind AMD’s transformation, with the ultimate goal of turning the chipmaker into a new organization that is not so heavily dependent on the PC market. John confirmed that the company is on the road to achieve a huge milestone in its transition plans, generating approximately 50 percent of its revenue from the non-PC market by the end of 2015.
The time for the talk could not been better, as the market reacted positively to AMD’s Q1 earnings and at press time the stock was at $4.14, up $0.45 or 12.06 percent which is a huge jump for a tech stock. Keep in mind that many tech stocks have been bearish over the last four weeks, with several massive selloffs, especially in software and internet companies.
AMD fighting back in CPU space
We covered numerous topics from desktops, notebooks and tablets strategy all the way to the server, semi-custom APUs and of course the graphics market.
John said that leadership in the graphics sector is critical in AMD’s strategy, none more so than in the PC space where AMD wants to use their performance APU’s to compete with Intel’s Core i3 and Core i5 processors in the lucrative mainstream market. This is what AMD wants to address with Kaveri and to some extent with Kabini APUs.
AMD has high hopes for its upcoming server parts where they just launched their first ARM 64-bit product for the dense server space, where AMD expects to be a leader. On the other side of the spectrum the frugal AM1 platform launched a few weeks ago and it is getting very positive reviews. The first Kaveri parts have been on sale for a while, although we would like to see more desktop SKUs, not to mention mobile Kaveri APUs, including ULV variants.
Semi-custom APUs are blurring the line between AMD’s traditional product classes, but sales appear to be good, with more than 12 million Xbox One and PlayStation 4 consoles in the wild.
Phenomenal discrete GPU sales
Byrne is quietly confident when it comes to the GPU market, having just seen very strong sales in the performance and enthusiast high end segments of the market. The surge was driven by competitive products, great games and bundles, even with the cryptocurrency craze which was more or less a fluke for AMD.
The company remains committed to the GPU market, and expects to bring the successful R9 / R7 architecture further down into the mainstream price points in 2014, with similar traction. This means AMD will continue the fight against Nvidia in desktop and notebook GPU markets, while at the same time taking on Intel on desktop and notebook side with new APUs.
AMD thinks that the mix of great gaming performance, HSA, Mantle, Open CL, compute performance and some cool technologies like facial recognition can boost its position in the GPU market. This is just one part of the magic potion that is really starting to work for AMD, but it’s good to know that when it comes to graphics and gaming, AMD will stay committed to these markets in 2014 and beyond.
Enthusiasts need not worry. Although the company is reinventing itself and pursuing non-PC revenue streams, AMD will still be there to cater to their needs.
AMD posted some rather encouraging Q1 numbers last night, but slow PC sales are still hurting the company, along with the rest of the sector.
When asked about the PC market slump, AMD CEO Rory Read confirmed that the PC market was down sequentially 7 percent. This was a bit better than the company predicted, as the original forecast was that the PC market would decline 7 to 10 percent.
Rory pointed out that AMD can grow in the PC market as there is a lot of ground that can be taken from the competition. The commercial market did better than expected and Rory claims that AMD’s diversification strategy is taking off. AMD is trying to win market share in desktop and commercial segments, hence AMD sees an opportunity to grown PC revenue in the coming quarters. Rory also expects that tablets will continue to cannibalize the PC market. This is not going to change soon.
Kaveri and Kabini will definitely help this effort as both are solid parts priced quite aggressively. Kabini is also available in AMD’s new AM1 platform and we believe it is an interesting concept with plenty of mass market potential. Desktop and Notebook ASPs are flat which is something that the financial community really appreciated. It would not be so unusual that average selling prices were down since the global PC market was down.
Kaveri did well in the desktop high-end market in Q1 2014 and there will be some interesting announcements in the mobile market in Q2 2014 and beyond.
Qualcomm likes the idea, along with Nvidia. Qualcomm published an blog post on the potential impact of DirectX 12 on the mobile industry and the takeaway is very positive indeed.
DirectX 12 equals less overhead, more battery life
Qualcomm says it has worked closely with Microsoft to optimise “Windows mobile operating systems” and make the most of Adreno graphics. The chipmaker points out that current Snapdragon chipsets already support DirectX 9.3 and DirectX 11. However, the transition to DirectX 12 will make a huge difference.
“DirectX 12 will turbocharge gaming on Snapdragon enabled devices in many ways. Just a few years ago, our Snapdragon processors featured one CPU core, now most Snapdragon processors offer four. The new libraries and API’s in DirectX 12 make more efficient use of these multiple cores to deliver better performance,” Qualcomm said.
DirectX 12 will also allow the GPU to be used more efficiently, delivering superior performance per watt.
“That means games will look better and deliver longer gameplay longer on a single charge,” Qualcomm’s gaming and graphics director Jim Merrick added.
What about eye candy?
Any improvement in efficiency also tends to have a positive effect on overall quality. Developers can get more out of existing hardware, they will have more resources at their disposal, simple as that.
Qualcomm also points out that DirectX 12 is also the first version to launch on Microsoft’s mobile operating systems at the same time as its desktop and console counterparts.
The company believes this emphasizes the growing shift and consumer demand for mobile gaming. However, it will also make it easier to port desktop and console games to mobile platforms.
Of course, this does not mean that we’ll be able to play Titanfall on a Nokia Lumia, or that similarly demanding titles can be ported. However, it will speed up development and allow developers and publishers to recycle resources used in console and PC games. Since Windows Phone isn’t exactly the biggest mobile platform out there, this might be very helpful and it might attract more developers.
Sharing a stage at the event in San Francisco, the three major chip designers explained how, with a little tuning, OpenGL can offer developers between seven and 15 times better performance as opposed to the more widely recognised increases of 1.3 times.
AMD manager of software development Graham Sellers, Intel graphics software engineer Tim Foley and Nvidia OpenGL engineer Cass Everitt and senior software engineer John McDonald presented their OpenGL techniques on real-world devices to demonstrate how these techniques are suitable for use across multiple platforms.
During the presentation, Intel’s Foley talked up three techniques that can help OpenGL increase performance and reduce driver overhead: persistent-mapped buffers for faster streaming of dynamic geometry, integrating Multidrawindirect (MDI) for faster submission of many draw calls, and packing 2D textures into arrays, so texture changes no longer break batches.
They also mentioned during their presentation that with proper implementations of these high-level OpenGL techniques, driver overhead could be reduced to almost zero. This is something that Nvidia’s software engineers have already claimed is impossible with Direct3D and only possible with OpenGL (see video below).
Nvidia’s VP of game content and technology, Ashu Rege, blogged his account of the GDC joint session on the Nvidia blog.
“The techniques presented apply to all major vendors and are suitable for use across multiple platforms,” Rege wrote.
“OpenGL can cut through the driver overhead that has been a frustrating reality for game developers since the beginning of the PC game industry. On desktop systems, driver overhead can decrease frame rate. On mobile devices, however, driver overhead is even more insidious, robbing both battery life and frame rate.”
The slides from the talk, entitled Approaching Zero Driver Overhead, are embedded below.
At the Game Developers Conference (GDC), Microsoft also unveiled the latest version of its graphics API, Directx 12, with Direct3D 12 for more efficient gaming.
Showing off the new Directx 12 API during a demo of Xbox One racing game Forza 5 running on a PC with an Nvidia Geforce Titan Black graphics card, Microsoft said Directx 12 gives applications the ability to directly manage resources to perform synchronisation. As a result, developers of advanced applications can control the GPU to develop games that run more efficiently.